Are You Ready for Kids With Special Needs?

Posted on: 05/19/08 9:38 AM | by Jonathan McKee

And I thought I had experienced disruptive kids!

Carol Race can’t take her son to church. One Sunday she tried… and the Sheriff was waiting at the end of her driveway. The church had filed a restraining order. But according to this twin cities Star Tribune article, Carol’s son isn’t your average 13-year-old.

The Rev. Daniel Walz, who did not return calls left at the Church of St. Joseph parish office, wrote in court documents that Adam’s behavior was “extremely disruptive and dangerous.” He alleged that Adam, who is more than 6 feet tall and weighs over 225 pounds, spits and urinates in church and has nearly injured children and elderly people.

Wow. This wouldn’t be an easy situation for anyone. Carol’s son is autistic. Shouldn’t he be able to attend church? At the same time, are there boundaries of what behavior is tolerable?

How do we minister to special needs kids?

My wife volunteered in a Sunday school class where we had several autistic children that attended. Some were pleasant experiences, some were very difficult. If we as the church are unprepared for such a situation, the results can be very unpleasant for everyone. But with a little compassion and some pro-active planning, ministering to special needs kids can be one other aspect of our ministry where we can represent Christ not only in word, but in deed.

Being pro-active to minister to special needs kids always includes two elements:

1. Being prepared to offer one-on-one attention to special needs kids

2. Good communication with the parents

The best help in these situations is always providing “one-on-one” attention to these children. The church I attended realized that many of these special needs kids needed special attention. So the church assigned a single volunteer to these individual kids (yes, it should be no surprise that much of our job as youth or children’s workers is recruiting and managing volunteers). If the kid became too disruptive, then the volunteer could take the child on a walk or in another room. I attended one large church where they had a special room for special needs kids. This was a room set up with special toys and games reserved exclusively for these kids.

An open channel of communication with the parents is also always key. Parents of special needs kids should be assured primarily that we want to serve them and love them and their children. Then ask them for any advice about their child. Be a good listener. As you listen to their needs, explain to them what you can hope to provide with one-on-one attention and any special rooms or services. Then be sure to get a cell phone number or point of connection so you can call them for help if the situation gets out of hand. It’s not unfair to set boundaries.

My sister in law Amy is a speech therapist and works with numerous special needs kids, including autistic children. I emailed her about a special situation with a kid that was very disruptive in a youth group. Her response was very helpful:

To me, the physical outbursts have to be handled – I would definitely talk with the family and if they were unable to help control these, I may have to restrict the son’s involvement in certain events where he was more unmanageable.  I would also consider having some private chats with the regular ed students – how God has made us all in His image, and see if God has placed these (special needs) kids on any of the student’s hearts to directly minister to and “help out.”  It may help make them less “annoying” in the eyes of the group if the group has an opportunity to voice their frustrations and at the same time hear a bit of God’s perspective on these kids of His. 

I love how Amy not only gave good advice about communication and boundaries… but she talked about an opportunity for our entire youth group to minister.

Jesus came across a lot of people with special needs and always seemed to act in compassion. I think we should try to do the same.

Interactive Sermons Via Cell Phone

Posted on: 05/5/08 2:26 PM | by Jonathan McKee

This is a great idea for youth workers. I received an email with this submission to our Openers page recently and thought it was pretty creative, especially in line with our cell phone discussion we had in late March.

Opener Idea: Text-a-Friend

Description: Start your message by saying “if you have a cell phone, please turn it on silent mode” then proceed to say “I want you to text two people in your address book this question ” …whatever pertains to your topic. How does prayer work? etc. then continue your talk for a few minutes then ask who has a response. build off of their responses. This make for a great illustration for any topic. – Jason Meredith

Thanks Jason. Great idea. I love incorporating current culture and modern technology to our ministry.

I can totally picture talking with kids about a topic like evangelism and then asking them, “What do your friends think of God or the church? Text them right now and ask them, ‘Would you go to church if I someone invited you? Why or why not?'” What a great way to poll current attitudes and feelings of those just one degree of separation from your youth group.

This makes me think of the one suggestion we heard in a comment in that “Cell Phone Use at Youth Group” blog. Kenneth commented the following: 

i don’t understand what the big deal is about cell phones. i’ve been yp at a church for a couple years now, and the first i did was to change the “no cell phone” rule to “have your cell phone rule.” are the phones really a distraction to you or are they a hit on your pride because you can’t keep their attention?

unless the phone is making noise every time they get a text or call, i don’t worry about it. can you see the head pastor calling out a member in the main service every time a man or woman pulls out their phone?

as far as trips, if a kid would rather talk or text on his phone at a retreat or camp than listen to me, i let him. when jesus was teaching, i can’t see him always pulling judas back in to listen to him even though judas was more interested in counting the money outside the meeting.

but for those who need an idea, here’s one that i got from a pastor in washington that works quite well. i have the kids text me any questions that pop into their minds while i teach. when i’m done teaching, i read the questions aloud and answer them. i usually leave around five minutes to answer the texts.

you do have the occasional “why are you wearing that shirt tonight?” or “why does poop stink?”, but overall it’s a very productive addition to the lesson. most of the students listen more closely because they want something i say to spark their interest so they can text me a question. this is a great opportunity to enter their world with the message and not make them stay in ours. it also allows me to answer their questions about my lesson as soon as i speak it. how many times have we prayed for a response from our kids? i’ve found this to be it. after all, as yp’s, aren’t we all about being as relevant as today’s paper?

you’d be surprised at how this catches on and the texts start pouring in over the weeks. just remember to put your phone on silent while you teach, or else you’ll have to confiscate your own phone. lol

Kenneth was pretty bold with this comment in a sea of comments instructing us to “collect” cell phones at the door or confiscate them. But more importantly… I love his idea of getting feedback or questions about your talk right then and there. Fantastic idea.

Thanks Jason and Kenneth for these ideas… good food for thought.


MTV’s Real World… Not So Real

Posted on: 04/22/08 2:12 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I love this article. FInally verbalizing what I’ve thought for years now (wondering why kids even watch this show).

The article questions why MTV even renewed its “once hit show” The Real World for its 21st season. Unlike the author of the article, I was never a fan of the show. But I think he nailed it when he said this:

Those of us who watched the show in its early years — before reality television fueled all of television, popular culture and the media — recall a series that cast people with actual lives… Now, the cast members apparently have nothing to do besides be on “The Real World” — at least, until they can permanently wallow in the MTV cesspool via its “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” shows. They sit around the house except when they leave to party or go to their producer-arranged group job, and thus have plenty of time to drink, scream at each other and make out.

That pretty much wraps it up!

(Thanks to Todd for the article)

Relationships Retreat Resources

Posted on: 04/14/08 8:00 AM | by Jonathan McKee

On THE SOURCE Podcast Episode #14 Furby and I talked about a retreat that Furby’s church does for junior high students every year called the Relationships Retreat. It’s a retreat where they talk about everything to do with sex and dating- a whole weekend on the subject.

In the podcast we discuss it and then we mention that we’ll provide you with the rough outline of what subjects they talked on and any books and or websites they used for reference material. So here’s the list, as promised:


Topics we hit at the Relationships Retreat:
• Self-Image and Puberty
• Friendship (God’s plan for real friendship)
• Dating (boundaries, how far is too far, etc.)
• Porn and Masturbation (we split up the guys and girls for this)
• Sex and consequences
• What to do if you’ve messed up in the past
• Purity Challenge (VERY DISTINCT from a Virginity Challenge)

Here’s a list of GREAT resources we used to write our booklet and to teach out of.  I’ve put the books in order of most used and relevant:

Purity Under Pressure.  Neil T. Anderson & Dave Park
The Invisible Bond.  Barbara Wilson  (Barb’s book and all her work are incredible.  We ALWAYS have Barb or one of her interns come and speak at our retreat.  Her work and ability to communicate are incredible.  I would highly recommend to anyone trying to do a Relationships Retreat that they make Barb Wilson an essential part of the their Retreat.)
Sex God. Rob Bell
Sexy Girls.  Hayley Dimarco
Too Close Too Soon.  Jim Talley & Bobbie Reed
The What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys.  Lynda Madaras
And the Two Became One.  Dianne S. Dewane
God on Sex.  Daniel L. Akin

And of course Jonathan’s resources and his seminar:

And here’s some more web sites:  (University of Michigan educational website)  (stats)  (Center for Disease Control)

Now it’s your turn. We want you to use the comment feature of this blog to let us know what resources you have used to teach on the subject.

This blog is just the first on this subject this week. Tomorrow we talk about the “1 in 4 teenage girls have an STD” statistic.

Recruiting & Training Volunteers

Posted on: 04/9/08 10:38 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Today’s blog will be short as I’m finishing up my last touches on a workshop I’m teaching In Sacramento tomorrow where I’m training volunteer managers how to recruit and manage volunteers. I’m focusing a good chunk of the workshop on understanding GENERATION Y but I’ll also be teaching them how to recruit 21st Century volunteers and keep them once you’ve got em!’

This workshop is fun to prepare. It’s called THE NEW BREED, based off the book of the same title that my dad and I wrote together.

I love training. Nothing excites me more than equipping a group of people to go make a difference. It doesn’t get better than that.

My dad offers a ton of free resources and idea for managing and equipping today’s volunteer on his website:

Cell Phone Use at Youth Group

Posted on: 03/25/08 9:00 AM | by Jonathan McKee

In our current THE SOURCE podcast (Episode #13) I promised I’d blog about it. It’s something youth leaders all deal with. We’ve heard it countless times: Every kid in our youth room has a cell phone in their pocket!
How do I communicate to kids to stop texting during worship?
  – Can I say “no cell phones” on our trips?
What if parents WANT their kids to have cell phones with them?

These are great questions. And, as we said in our podcast, we WANT YOU to help us answer. Here’s the situation:

In the HELP ME section of our most recent podcast, youth worker Matt from Longview, TX asked us:

Our small youth group (25-30) has taken to text-messaging on their cell phones. I’m not against cell phone use, but it has become a distraction. Have you got any ideas for boundaries/limits to cell phone use during youth group activities? Secondly, have you got any clever ideas on how to address the youth with these boundaries? Do you know of successful ways of dealing with this issue? -Matt Longview, TX, USA

In the podcast David and I shared some funny “cell phone” experiences and provided our 2 cents on the matter. The most difficult situation to figure out was what to do on trips. After all, many parents want their kids to have their cell phones so they can be reached (have you read about the epidemic of helicopter parents?). David suggested that we don’t circumvent parents’ authority on the matter, and allow cell phones. Just tell kids to not use cell phones EXCEPT to communicate with their parents.

This, of course, brought a skeptical laugh out of me. So I asked David, “How the heck do you monitor that?!!”

It’s not an easy answer. And there probably isn’t ONE answer. So… we want to hear from you.

  • How do you control cell phone use at youth group?

  • Do you allow cell phones on trips?

  • Should we put the foot down and say, “no cell phones” on trips?

  • If we allow cell phones on trips, how can we control use?

Share your 2 cents by commenting below. (and if you’re not yet a subscriber to this blog, just click on the red word “Subscribe” on the left side bar and sign up. It’s free and it will keep you current)

Will Teenagers iBible?

Posted on: 03/2/08 11:16 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The podcast is called A Li’l Bit. It’s a weekly 10 minute Bible study for teenagers. It’s free, it’s quick, it gets them in the Word, and it provides application and a reading challenge for the rest of the week.

The idea is this: we’ve seen more Christian teenagers carrying iPods than Bibles (sadly, even at church camps and retreats). So, why not provide yet another way to get the Word into their heads… through their earphones.

In last week’s EZINE I shared about this and linked a report about podcast use among teenagers. Over 50% do listen to podcasts. More importantly, 78% of teenagers have a portable media player, of which 82% are iPods. If youth workers publicize the convenient little iBible-study to their Christian students struggling to get in the Word, chances are they will give it a shot.

We just launched the podcast a week ago with three episodes already– the fourth will be launching today. Last week we announced it for the first time in our EZINE. So far the responses have been very postive. But I’m curious what you think. If you have a few moments, do me this favor:

  • Jump on A Li’l Bit’s web site and check it out.
  • Click on the link for any of the episodes (using the iPod controls on the site- pretty cool) and give a listen to an episode or two.
  • Use iTunes comment feature to post a comment if you like it.
  • Feel free to comment here in this blog as well. We’d love your feedback.
  • Most importantly, spread the word to your kids. Send your kids an email and have them subscribe to this free podcast. We’re all about getting the Word in their heads!


Amy Winehouse Goes to Rehab

Posted on: 01/25/08 10:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

You’ve heard the words to the song:

He’s tried to make me go to rehab
I wont go, go, go.

… and now they’re true.

Amy Winehouse is no longer saying “no, no, no.” She’s going to rehab. An article on announced that Amy is cancelling her appearance at a Saturday awards show and checking into rehab.

“Amy decided to enter the facility today after talks with her record label, management, family and doctors,” reads a statement from the Universal Music Group. “She has come to understand that she requires specialist treatment to continue her ongoing recovery from drug addiction and prepare for her planned appearance at the Grammy Awards.”

Just yesterday there were reports of Amy being caught on video smoking crack.

The British tabloid the Sun released grainy footage showing Grammy-nominated Winehouse, 24, inhaling fumes from a pipe. The video was reportedly shot hours before she attended a court hearing for her jailed husband.

Amy’s “Rehab” song is in the iPods of Hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the world. The message that most kids hear from the song is one of “I don’t care.” But if you listen a little closer to the talented yet troubled singer’s lyrics… you see pain, something today’s generation can relate to.

I don’t ever wanna drink again
I just, ooo, I just need a friend
Im not gonna spend 10 weeks
Have everyone think im on the mend

It’s not just my pride
It’s just til these tears have dried

They’re tryin to make me go to rehab
I said no, no, no

Amy has confessed to her troubles in interviews before. In Spin Magazine last summer she said, “I write songs because I’m f—ed in the head and need to get something good out of something bad.” (Amy Winehouse, Spin, July 2007, p. 60.)

As a youth worker I have two thoughts:

  1. Pray for Amy. Don’t mock her in this (sometimes the ‘righteous’ have the tendency to kick people when they’re down). Just pray for her.
  2. Use this as an opportunity to talk with our kids about these feelings. “Have you ever felt like her lyrics: ‘I just need a friend?'” “Have you ever turned toward something that you know down deep isn’t the answer… but you do it anyway?” “What could be the answer to this emptiness we feel?”


Young Life Skit Causes Stir

Posted on: 01/23/08 8:47 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Ah… this article from brings back memories:

Police in Mount Lebanon, Pa., said in December that no illegal acts were involved, but some parents still want to know why the nondenominational Christian Mount Lebanon Young Life club had staged a teenagers’ social event during which boys wore adult diapers, bibs and bonnets and sat in girls’ laps while being spoon-fed. Said youth minister O.J. Wandrisco, the skits were not “dirty,” but “to break down the walls and let (the kids) have fun.” A previous skit involved, according to a parent, kids eating chocolate pudding out of diapers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12-8-07]

Wow… and I found this in News of the Weird . That’s quite an acheivement- I’ve never made it into that publication. I’m so jealous!  🙂  (My gross games page only made it into WORLD Magazine a few years ago… but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

NFL Cracking Down on Churches Showing the Super Bowl on the Big Screen

Posted on: 01/19/08 9:35 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Every year our ministry provides fun resources for for all the churches and youth groups that have Super Bowl parties. Last year, a wrench was thrown in the works… the NFL cracked down on churches showing the game on the big screen.


Yep… no joke. This actually doesn’t surprise me. Any Monday Night Football fan remembers that little disclaimer they make about the game not being for public showing, yada, yada, yada. Well, some churches have these giant Super Bowl parties and charge admission.

Well, the NFL is cracking down on these large gatherings watching the game on the big screen.

Here are the two issues: collecting money, and screen size.

The Daily Progress out of Charlottesville, VA has an article talking about this situation. This article talks about the Indianapolis church that was told they couldn’t show the game on the big screen. A Charlottesville lawyer, John W. Whitehead, wants to fight this, saying that “he’d sue if he could only find a church willing to sign on as a client.”  (Really? A lawyer wants to sue?)

The article goes into detail:

At issue is a law and corresponding league rule that says the Super Bowl can’t be shown to gatherings on a screen larger than 55 inches.

Whitehead, who has made a career in part by defending religious groups on free speech issues, says that rule keeps most churches from being able to host Super Bowl parties and show the game.

“It’s absurd to say that anyone in a larger crowd can watch it on a 55-inch screen,” he said. “They can’t.”

The league’s policy is modeled after the federal Copyright Act, and does not unfairly target churches, according to an NFL spokesman.

“Our position on this is that we have absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they don’t charge admission and they show the game on a television of the type that is commonly used at home,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Is a lawsuit the answer?

Here’s my two cents: Fair or not, it’s a law. We need to obey it.

But don’t worry… we CAN still have superbowl parties, IN HOMES. That’s right. Personally, that’s more fun anyway. It’s more intimate. For large churches or youth groups, what a great way to connect people with others in their area. Have “area Super Bowl parties.”

And as for the money? Don’t charge admission, just make it a “bring your own snack” party. Admission is a bag of Doritos or a 2 Liter of Pepsi.

A few examples of what this can look like:

I was one of the leaders of a young couple’s ministry at my church a few years ago. We used to have a Super Bowl party at one of the leader’s house and invite the whole young couple’s class. We had about 30 people show up. It was a big house with a big TV and a big freaking couch!!! It was a lot of fun.

When I was in high school (WAAAAAAAAAY back in the day), my youth group used to always have a Super Bowl party at one of the youth leaders’ houses. This was always great fun. Our youth group was a decent size, about 70 kids weekly. This youth leader built bleachers in his house… (it was awesome) in two different rooms. All the fans for one team went in one room, all the fans of the other went in the other room (he wasn’t trying to cause divisions, the rooms were only so big… we needed multiple rooms to fit all the kids). I’ll always remember that Super Bowl.

Oh… and screen size? Do you remember what TV’s used to be in the 80’s? (okay… I just dated myself. I was in high school in the 80’s. Yes… pegged pants, an Izod with the collar up, a white Miami Vice jacket… the whole bit!) A BIG TV in the 80’s was 27 inches, unless you were one of the few people who had those funky projection BIG SCREENS with the three lights shining on it (and you couldn’t even see the picture unless you weren’t dead center). Yes… that memorable Super Bowl I saw on the bleachers in a living room in high school was on a 25″ TV.

So I have no problem with 55 inches.

So… this year our ministry will be providing its annual Super Bowl activity ideas, including a fun little Super Bowl quiz- a competition predicting the results of the game. (here’s last year’s quiz) People take the quiz before the game starts answering who they think will catch the most passes, which team will score first, who will get the most field goals, etc. After the game, you tally up the results and see who did the best on the “quiz.”

Great fun.

So throw your Super Bowl parties this year. Just 1. don’t charge  2. and “keep it on a on a television of the type that is commonly used at home,” to quote that NFL spokesman word for word.

So who’s gonna win?